MINNEAPOLIS – For the better part of 12 games, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have made nationally-acclaimed rookie seasons look easy.
Thursday night, the Minnesota Vikings made the Cowboys' dynamic offense earn every inch of their season-low 264 total yards.
"It definitely was a tough-fought win. They have a great defense," Elliott said after the Cowboys escaped brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium with their 11th straight victory, 17-15.
Prescott passed for a season-low 139 yards, completing 12 of only 18 attempts, and lost a fumble on a sack that led to a Vikings field goal and a 9-7 deficit early in the fourth quarter.
Elliott tied Tony Dorsett's and Herschel Walker's rookie franchise record for rushing touchdowns (12) with a 1-yard score in the second quarter. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry, but he also finished with his lowest rushing yards (86) and fumbled (though recovered the ball) for the first time since Week 2. A 43-yard run in the first quarter, wiped out by one of three Cowboys holding penalties, would've helped his total.
The Vikings entered the game with the league's third-ranked defense in total yardage and the second-fewest points per game allowed (17.5). Through three quarters, the Cowboys scored seven points on their first nine possessions.
As they've done all season, though, the star rookies made plays at critical moments.
Prescott capitalized on a special teams takeaway with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant to regain a 14-9 lead with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the next drive, Elliott's game-best 30-yard run put the offense on the Vikings' 24-yard line, leading to a Dan Bailey field goal and an 8-point lead.
Minnesota drove for a late touchdown but couldn't convert the two-point conversion needed to tie.
"Those guys, I thought, handled themselves well tonight when it wasn't quite so easy. And trust me, it's never easy," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "But when you have dirty runs and the coverages are hard and there are people around you in the pocket, for the running back and the quarterback to handle themselves, it was impressive to me.
"And again, it says a lot about who they are as people and how mentally and physically tough they are as players, and there's no question at different times in this game, they made the critical plays that allowed us to go ahead and win this ballgame."
Prescott's most impressive play wasn't necessarily his touchdown pass or his 56-yard strike to Bryant that set up Elliott's touchdown run. It might have been his 8-yard scramble for what appeared to be a first down, sliding in bounds to drain the clock with under three minutes left and a 17-9 lead.
The Vikings won a challenge that Prescott didn't reach the first-down marker, and the Cowboys eventually punted. But his alertness to stay in bounds was the type of veteran play he's been making all season.
"I thought it was an amazing football play to do what he did, the awareness," Garrett said.
Neither rookie had their most efficient game, but both continue to show mistakes don't rattle them over four quarters.
"The offense finally got some things done, had a huge play on special teams and the defense made some necessary stops," Prescott said. "It was another great team victory."